Bruce Cassidy is out as the Bruins’ coach and we still really, truly don’t know why.
Don Sweeney spent the better portion of a half-hour early Tuesday morning attempting to explain to the media why he decided the day before to dump Cassidy overboard, and it came down to the general manager’s considered read that his coach, fresh off a career-best 51-win season, just isn’t the right man for the team at this moment.
Fine. Coaches have been fired for less. Heck, Rick Bowness got dumped here because he woke up one morning, days after directing the Bruins to the Stanley Cup semifinals, and — sonofagun! — he wasn’t Brian Sutter.
Causeway Street forever has been fitted with trap doors.
Problem this time, though, is that Sweeney also said he doesn’t know where his team is at the moment. He likes its composition (like writers, GMs generally are in love with their own creations), yet he doesn’t know whether:
▪ franchise center Patrice Bergeron still wants to play;
▪ franchise center 1A David Krejci wants to give up the good, relaxed life in Czechia for a Black-and-Gold sunset tour;
▪ the players healing from recent surgery, including No. 1 left winger Brad Marchand, will be ready to make meaningful contributions.
Sweeney just knows that Cassidy, who all but waved a magic wand over a team that was dead on double runners upon taking over in February 2017, isn’t the guy for right here, right now. So he’s outta here.
Something’s missing here, folks. It’s something Sweeney either doesn’t want to say or can’t quite figure out. If it’s the latter, Bruins Nation is in for a rough ride into the boards.
Or maybe Sweeney thinks getting rid of Cassidy ultimately will provide needed clarity for the roster and the front office. Maybe the new guy, be it ex-Providence coach Jay Leach or someone with a longer list of creds, is the maestro poised to wave the next magic wand.
According to Sweeney, who noted in a press release Monday that he felt a new voice was needed, the messaging from Cassidy was off.
“I felt that both the message and how it was being delivered and more importantly maybe how it was being received,” he said. “I think the players, you know, felt they were very well prepared, but at times, young and old, they struggle — and sometimes that’s the voice that’s in their head, and I think ultimately I had to make a decision that takes us in a different path.”
In their heads. OK. We’ve all been there. We like the work. We think we’re doing fine, performing exactly as required. The department’s operating just dandy.
But, uh-oh, the boss isn’t pleased with our performance. For whatever reason. We’re too slow. We don’t play well with others. We’re not the best self-starters in the workforce. I think I deserve a desk near the window, but here I am in the basement, the only light the boss gives me a 60-watt bulb dangling from the ceiling.
So if the message wasn’t getting through, or didn’t play well on the group’s collective ear, maybe Cassidy lost the room?
Not the case, said Sweeney, referring to the telltale math.
“No. No. You don’t go out and get 107 points and win 51 games if players aren’t responding to you,” said the former defenseman. “That just doesn’t happen. He’s able to push the buttons that are necessary. But it takes its toll over the course of time. You have to find a way to deliver that message a little differently.”
Again, the messaging. Tone. The working help understood what Cassidy wanted, but by Sweeney’s eye, they weren’t delivering. As a group, they were wearing sweater No. Catch 22.
When the GM comes to such a decision, it’s time to change either the players or the coach — and Sweeney went with the latter. Let that serve as a caveat emptor for Cassidy’s successor. Expect too much out of the working help, make them feel uncomfortable, perhaps insecure … and, boy, don’t let the penalty box door hit you on the way out of the arena.
Cassidy, 57, will be quick to find work. Again, look at the math.
In the three seasons he coached a full 82-game schedule, his messaging was good enough for the Bruins to average 50 wins and deliver 109 points. In his 5½ seasons overall, the Bruins played in 12 playoff series, and came within a stick-length or two of beating the Blues for the title here in Game 7 of the 2019 Cup Final.
The only other coach on the market right now with better creds is Barry Trotz, who won the Cup with the Capitals in 2018. Trotz was canned on Long Island six weeks ago by GM Lou Lamoriello.
“I believe,” Lamoriello said as he turfed Trotz, “this group of players needs a new voice.”
Man, that sounds familiar.
In both cases, Sweeney and Lamoriello came up with an easy, tried-and-true excuse. Their teams disappointed — the Islanders more than the Bruins — and the coach took the fall.
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, still watching from his corporate office in Buffalo, has gone along with the decision, said Sweeney. His absentee boss, whose own messaging often has been the dickens to decipher, obviously feels OK with what’s gone on here.
Though the day could come, noted a candid Sweeney, when his own messaging and decision making won’t play well anymore in Buffalo.
“One of the best parts about working for this organization is to be held to that standard — knowing that you have the full latitude to make the recommendation on decisions that you think are right,” he said. “And then when they’re not, they get somebody else. That’s as categorically honest as I can possibly be. That’s as black and white as it is.”
The 2022-23 season starts in about 90 days. Sweeney today can’t say whether his team is in a rebuild, or whether there are enough elements on hand to add a free agent, make a trade or two, maybe promote a kid in hopes of making a real run for the Cup.
Frankly, it would take all that, along with a dramatic increase in team speed and a booster shot of toughness to mask over the departures of twin intimidators Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller from the backline.
There is so much work to do these next three months, and all the more now that Sweeney has opted to dump one of his best assets in Cassidy.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.